The government’s enhanced relation with the US is reflected in Power’s remarks that the US-Sri Lankan relationships was taking place in ‘a wholly new and fresh way’. Soon after her arrival in the country, she
interacted with Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera. In her remarks to the media after the meeting, she said,”
Mr. Minister, it’s wonderful to be here in Sri Lanka. I just touched down a few hours ago and I already feel immersed in the warmth and hospitality of your dynamic country – your dynamic and welcoming people. You reminded me in our meeting that we only met for the first time in February of this year, and I had to pinch myself because I feel in such a short time we have together been able to cooperate already on so many issues both bilaterally – through the relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka – but also on shared collective security and how to reach out to the broader international community.”
Sri Lanka has been a real partner of the United States at the United Nations. The Sri Lankan president came to President Obama’s summit on peacekeeping in September and made one of the most ambitious announcements and set of commitments of any leader – extremely important. On issues of human rights and democratic accountability around the world, Sri Lanka has become, again, a close partner and someone we can count on to also stand up for the aspirations of people who aren’t doing so well elsewhere in the world,” she said.
Ambassador Power noted it was refreshing to see the changes that took place in the country after the two main elections conducted here. In fact, she said the Sri Lankan people chose democratic and accountable governance, and chose the path of reconciliation over division and the path of hope over fear.
During her short visit that ended on November 24, she reached out to what she called ‘broad swathes of Sri Lankan society’. That included meetings with President Maitripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan. Besides, she flew to Jaffna to meet with Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and civil society leaders based in the area.
During the term of the previous government, the US–Sri Lanka relations have strained, particularly on the political front. It happened because the then government led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa saw the US involvement in post-war affairs as intrusive and an affront to the sovereignty of the country. But, with the change on January 8, the new government under President Maitripala Sirisena, had a fresh look at the issue and chose to cooperate with the US.
The fresh approach eventually resulted in Sri Lanka also co-sponsoring the US resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September this year. Sri Lanka is a party to this resolution, and shouldered with virtual responsibility to execute its provisions, be they populist in one corner of the country, or not elsewhere.
It is apparent that the US will continue to keep a close tab on what is happening in the country. It was indicative of Ambassador Power’s remarks on one occasion during the visit, that the world was watching what was happening in Sri Lanka far more closely.
She said, “The last thing I’d just like to say – which I shared with the Minister and his team in our bilateral meeting, but I’d just share with the Sri Lankan people – is that the world is watching what’s happening in Sri Lanka far more closely, I think, than any of you can imagine. The changes that have been put in place in a very complex and diverse political environment over the course of the last nine or ten months have grabbed the world’s attention,”.
Alongside, the US looks keen to tie up with Sri Lanka in economic relations. That country has grasped the potential of Sri Lanka given its strategic position in the Indian Ocean. It was obvious when US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Atul Keshap addressed a recent function to mark the US Trade Show, an event that took place prior to the visit of Ms. Power.
US Ambassador sees SL as land of opportunities
In his address, he noted, “I don’t have to tell you that Sri Lanka enjoys tremendous advantages that American and other companies around the world can take advantage of. First of all as you all know, it sits beside some of the busiest shipping lanes on the entire planet. If you go down to the old Galle Fort and look out from the ramparts, you will see containerized shipping, tankers, freighters from all around the world, they all pass Galle Fort on their way between the straits of Malacca and the straits of Hormuz. I see ships coming to the port of Colombo from right outside my office window. It is clear that Sri Lanka is on the global map.
So Sri Lanka has quite a geographic positioning. It is so close to the markets of South Asia, so close to the markets of the Middle East, so close to the markets of South-east Asia. I don’t need to tell you any of this, you already know this. It also has Free Trade Agreements with many of the countries in the region, making it an excellent location for assembly, logistics and other commercial endeavours. And, as I have discovered, Sri Lanka is a tremendous place and it makes an excellent regional hub and an excellent place to live. These are messages I have already begun to deliver to the American business chambers around the region, throughout the Indo-Pacific region, South-east Asia, East Asia, South Asia and other places. It is true by all means that the government is poised to strengthen its links with the US on all fronts.
Yet, the joint Opposition appears to be having a different world view. This political group loyal to MR sees that Sri Lanka should not line up with a certain power bloc of the world, as one of its junior members.
A joint Opposition delegation led by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris met with Russian Ambassador Alexander A. Karchava at the embassy on Tuesday, and made its stance clear. During the meeting, the Opposition delegation was critical of allowing foreign officials to visit the sensitive military installations in the country.
Joint Opposition sees Russian President as Vigorous Figure
This criticism was in obvious reference to the visit of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to the naval base in Trincomalee. Later, they alleged that there was a torture chamber. The Navy denied it later.
Prof. Peiris told the meeting, “According to a news report, the government has directed to arrest 20 intelligence officials. More and more military personnel are arrested whereas more and more LTTE people are released.”
He said the Opposition delegation greatly appreciated the contribution made by the Russian Federation during Sri Lanka’s difficult times.
“We also appreciated the contribution of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President in the contemporary world as a vigorous figure who has made great difference to the contemporary world order,” he said.
This was part of the opposition’s engagement with the Heads of Diplomatic Missions in Colombo.
The budget debate is currently underway in Parliament, and the allegation of falsification of figures, in one instance, has drawn the attention of critics.
Bandula –Ravi spat over bloated figures
Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardane locked horns with Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake over the matter, and it resulted in the suspension of parliamentary sitting during the budget debate on Monday for ten minutes. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya called for a meeting with both of them in his office. Besides, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella, Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatilake, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and a few top finance ministry officials were also present at the meeting.
Again, at the meeting, Mr. Gunawardane and Mr. Karunanayake took on each other. The former charged that the capital value of school buildings and playgrounds had been taken into account and included in the recurrent expenditure under the vote of the Education Ministry. He said Rs. 124.4 billion had been added in this manner to show that the government was living up to its promise that six percent of the GDP would be apportioned to develop the education sector. It was a main campaign theme of the United National Party (UNP).
However, the latter rebuffed the allegation saying the capital value had to be considered as a modern technique of budgetary estimations.
“I wonder why Mr. Gunawardane doesn’t understand it,” he said.
The joint Opposition is not ready to give up its fight against the government on this matter. In fact, it decided to move a no-confidence motion against the Minister.
The budget contains proposals, both to be appreciated and criticized. But, in the public domain, it has been subjected to severe criticism due to lack of concessions and welfare measures. The budget takes the form of a blueprint for long-term economic reforms. Mr. Karunanayake mentioned it as a wake-up call for the private sector to invest.
Budget formulated on UNP policies: SLFP dissidents to vote against?
The Minister also called it an extension of economic reforms initiated by late President J.R. Jayewardene, and carried forward by late President R. Premadasa - the two vigorous UNP leaders.
Now, a National Government is in place. Mr. Karunanayake is the Finance Minister of such a Unity Government formed between the UNP and the SLFP.
Against this backdrop, the Rajapaksa group of the SLFP found this budget unacceptable. The group viewed the budget as something against core values and policies of SLFP.
Be that as it may, President Maithripala Sirisena asked the party’s MPs to vote for the budget as SLFP is now part and parcel of the National Government. First all the MPs of the party met with the President and the party’s General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake, a right hand loyalist of President Sirisena, announced it to the media. But, SLFP dissidents were unhappy about it, and even sought a denial from Mr. Dissanayake.
The MR group had a discussion with the President separately on Tuesday and informed of its decision. The President said he would only request all the MPs of the party to vote for the budget, but not order anyone in this regard.
Subsequent to this meeting, the MR loyalists met again, and decided to seek more modifications and ramifications to the budget. Accordingly, the President will engage with the relevant authorities, including Mr. Karunanayake as the Finance Minister once he returned from his overseas tour.
The final decision of the MR group has not been announced as yet, pending the outcome of the President’s proposed engagement. However, all indications are that the group will vote against the budget.
After a lapse of exactly one year and two days, former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa ran to President Sirisena. The duo are arch rivals in politics after the President fell out with MR, the brother of Basil, and challenged him at the January 8th Presidential Election. After his fallout, President Sirisena found more faults with him for what he called ‘political undercuts and injustices’ done to him when he served in the Cabinet at that time. After defection, the President even accused Basil of spoiling his long-standing friendship with MR.
Basil runs to President
The two had not met with each other since defection. Yet, Basil Rajapaksa encountered the President at the wedding reception of former Minister Arumugam Thondaman’s daughter on Sunday. The two had an informal chat and hurried away.
Regi Remedius Kanagarajah, a Jaffna-born person domiciled in the Netherlands calls himself a descendant of a royal family that ruled Jaffna in ancient history; has written to Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera offering his assistance to bring about everlasting peace in the country.
‘His Royal Highness of Jaffna’ writes to Mangala
This individual who addresses himself as ‘His Royal Highness’ had sent the letter to the Minister recently.